Webb Ready for Cox Plate 2011 – Avienus Gains Start

In what has become tradition leading up to the iconic Cox Plate, pre-race drama reached its peak this morning with Gai Waterhouse confirming that Descarado has been scratched from Saturday’s showdown due to leg swelling, meaning Mark Webb’s in-form mare Avienus will get a second shot at becoming a Cox Plate winner.

Twelve months ago Reset mare Avienus lined up against an imposing field of weight-for-age stars and finished a game sixth, beaten just under five lengths, by dual champion So You Thinkin last year’s Cox Plate.

Avienus

Avienus has gained a start in the 2011 Cox Plate field

“To be beaten four and a half lengths behind So You Think is an outstanding effort,” Webb said of the 2010 Cox Plate result for his mare.

On Saturday she will again contest the $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley after gaining an eleventh hour start as the first emergency, and Webb is convinced that she has a genuine shot against what he calls a very even affair.

“Last year So You Think was such a champion of a horse and always looked the winner and did it so easily,” Webb said.

“Zipping, Shootout, So You Think, More Joyous….they were outstanding horses.

“It’s a very even Cox Plate (this year).

“You’ve got great horses like Helmet, but it’s a very, very event race.”

Originally Webb was shattered when Moonee Valley Racing Club committee members chose not to give Avienus a spot in the 14-starter Cox Plate field, regulating the six-year-old to first emergency, considering she ran an eye-catching second to Descarado in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) last-start.

“We set her for this campaign,” he said.

“We’ve been a little bit criticised for performances leading up to this…but you want your horse to peak at certain races and she’s done that and warranted this start.

“That showed in her 2000 (metres) in the Caulfield Stakes behind Descarado.

“She had to run the race of her life to warrant a start in the Cox Plate.”

Descarado got in her way in the Caulfield Stakes, but he moved out of the way for the Cox Plate allowing Avienus her chance to prove herself as a genuine Cox Plate horse.

With no way of knowing whether Avienus would indeed gain a Cox Plate start, Webb also accepted her for the $150,000 Trojan Hand Tools Stakes (1600m) – formerly the Tesio Stakes – at Moonee Valley on Saturday.

Whether she would be running in a mile race or over 2040 metres on Cox Plate Day meant that Webb had to keep his preparation with Avienus open this week.

“This week’s been a bit tricky, we’ve sort of been in two minds whether we were having to go to a mile race (or the Cox Plate),” Webb said.

Updated Cox Plate odds at Luxbet following yesterday’s withdrawal of second emergency Yosei and this morning’s scratching of Descarado have Avienus rated a $61 long-shot to win.

These are generous odds for a horse that has been to a Cox Plate before, although Webb is aware of the tough task ahead.

“It’s a high pressure race, a field of 13 (sic), over 2000 at the Valley,” he said.

Making Avienus’ test even harder on Saturday is that she has drawn wide in barrier 14, into 13 with Descarado having been in nine.

“She is a mare that can race anywhere, she can race forward or back, she’s versatile like that,” Webb said.

“But it’s a tough call when you draw out wide in big field at the Valley.

“She has only got a shorter sprint…she probably only has a 400 metre sprint and we will have to mindful of that.

“I will leave it up to Brad (Rawiller, jockey).”

The 2011 Tatts Cox Plate is scheduled to run as Moonee Valley Race 8 on Saturday and is due to jump at 4:35pm (AESDT).

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